I’ll get right to the point: YES, drug addiction is a mental illness. Let me explain the two main facets of drug addiction. First, there is the physical aspect of it – the physical craving for the drug because of the person’s chemical dependency upon the drug. In the case of alcohol, one will find that once they take a drink they will not be able to control the amount of alcohol they consume thereafter no matter how hard they try.
Second, there is the mental aspect of it, which is the obsession of when, how, how often and how much of the drug one can get. The addict’s thoughts are consumed with obtaining and retaining access to their drug of choice. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in my opinion, and it is lethal. It is not a moral shortcoming. It is not a choice. It is not a sin. It is not a lack of discipline or will-power. It is a mental illness!
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction qualifies as a mental illness because “addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing the person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting of new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”
While the addict may have crossed the line into non-choice when it comes to using his drug, he does always have the choice of whether or not to get treatment for his illness/addiction, just like one who has bipolar or schizophrenia can choose to get help for his illness or not.
However, as in the case with many mental illnesses, sometimes a primary symptom is that which tells the person that they don’t have the illness. This symptom is called denial, and unfortunately, it can delay treatment long past what is appropriate or safe for the individual.